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Screenwriting Help E-Mail (Previous)

Updated every Monday, one selected e-mail will be posted and answered here each week. With many years of experience in the film and television business, I look forward to providing answers to your questions (often with a humorous eye) about screenwriting or the entertainment industry in general.  Please send your e-mailed questions to: Script Advisor.  You may also wish to visit our Screenwriting Help E-Mails - The Archives.

This week's question: 

How do you write so you have an edge?

Arthur D.


This week's answer: 

Warning:  Approaching the Edge

Well, Arthur, the first thing to check is whether or not your pencil is sharp enough.  Ohhhh, that kind of edge! (And silly me.  Who writes with a pencil any more?) The word "edge" is bandied about quite a bit these days with so many producers demanding that their scripts have an edge (as, as far as I remember, all the hard copy scripts I've read or sent or used for fuel for my fireplace have had paper that had edges.  In fact, paper is basically all edge with a little tree in the middle. 

Personally, I think this "edge thing" has gotten a bit out of hand.  Here's why:  Good writing always has an "edge," as the saying goes (and I wish it would go to another universe and let them over there deal with it for a while).  Good writing always defines itself as it goes.  It leaves its own unique trail or wake  It awakens us and broadens our perspective while at the same time giving us a new, sharper focus.  It tunes us to its new station on the dial.  We recognize that we're on a new border and we cross over with enthusiasm but with some reserve because it's new territory, one that beckons and at the same time posts the sign, "Enter at your own risk.  When you leave here, you will be changed somehow forever."

Producers usually don't like to take time searching for words (or doing things a producer should or used to do such as reading scripts and actually getting back to screenwriters who sent those scripts) to express what they want such as those above so they cut to the quick and say they want a script with an edge.  The word has been used so often and covers so much ground that nobody really knows what it means, really.  It's like the best kept secret in Hollywood.  Tell a producer that your script has an edge and he and she will put it on the top of their pile of scripts to read.  (The problem with that idea, though, and the reason some producers have caught on and haven't been putting scripts with an edge on top of their piles is because several have reported getting paper cuts.  Edges can do that.) The word before "edge" that got your script in the front of the line was "high concept."  Which basically means a script that the general population will shell out -- what is it, 26 dollars for a movie these days? -- and feel like they were on some kind of amusement ride while eating overpriced food and drinks while talking on or watching or pressing their cell-phones:  

The movie ends and the lights go up.  "That was a cool movie. (punches buttons on cell-phone).  "Hey, whatsup? Cool. Just saw a cool movie. Kewl. Did you like it? I thought the lead chick was hot. Awesome.  We can check out another movie like real soon, like. Awesome."  And the two "cellers" are seen walking together, each on their cells.  And they continue to talk on their instruments of immense distraction and interruption (for others) with one another as they leave the theatre.

So this "edge" that producers and critics and everybody who owns a DVD (or DVDR or TIVO or even an old fashioned VCR, something that is made up usually three capitalized letters) use is not always easy to define.  Actually, I hear tell that there was a clandestine meeting held by producers in Hollywood about ten years ago, and, during that meeting, in order to create the image that producers really know what they were doing -- which they didn't, but didn't want anybody else to know -- and have some kind of special knowledge about what films will sell the most, they decided on the word, "edge," to basically keep hapless screenwriters guessing what "edge" meant and keep them vainly trying to write screenplays with an edge, screenplays with a word that the "skull and bones producers" made up that fateful summer night in a city which sleeps... but usually with its lights on. Hey, how's that for some descriptive and provocative writing.  I like it.

I think it has an edge.

DcH

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